State Rep. Peter Barca

The Comeback That Never Came

Fact checking Gov. Walker’s claims of economic recovery show a state being left behind.

By - May 11th, 2016 10:30 am
Gov. Scott Walker. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Gov. Walker recently published a highly misleading column “The Wisconsin Comeback Continues,” which highlights a handful of cherry-picked economic figures and examples (1). Unfortunately, for communities across the state, for many people struggling to find family-supporting jobs and for too many struggling small businesses, the “comeback” never came.

The Governor and Republican leaders seem to believe that citizens should be satisfied by their efforts – which may explain why there has been a lack of bold aggressive action on economic development and rebuilding the middle class on their part. However, polling suggests otherwise – in March the Marquette Law School poll found that 53 percent of voters disapprove of how Gov. Walker is performing his job and the last time they asked, the poll found that 60 percent of people disapprove of the way Republicans in the legislature are handling their jobs (2).

Let me be clear about one thing: legislative Democrats care very deeply about our state’s economy and are offering bold ideas for progress. We know our communities flourish when we have many people working at good-paying jobs. We are fighting for the middle class and those striving to get there.

That’s why it’s so troubling to see that the Governor just does not see the struggles of far too many citizens and instead of working for progress, he just sugar-coats the data.

Here are some sobering figures: More than 10,000 Wisconsin workers received layoff notices last year – the highest since Gov. Walker took office (3). Poverty is at a 30-year high in Wisconsin (4). Wisconsin is dead last in the nation for new business start-ups (5). According to Pew research, Wisconsin’s middle class is declining more than any other state (6).

Republicans have a stranglehold on our state government, and yet they did not take any meaningful steps to stem the flow of layoffs or help grow Wisconsin businesses.

Now, in an effort to boost his lagging poll numbers, Gov. Walker is cherry-picking data and using indicators that he himself has stated are a poor way of measuring job growth.

In 2012, the Governor touted his “commitment to use verifiable, actual job counts, not just monthly job estimates.” He also called quarterly jobs figures “the gold standard of jobs measurement” (7). The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact confirmed that quarterly figures are most accurate, stating in 2014 that monthly statistics are “based on numbers that can fluctuate widely because they are based on a small sample of employers” (8).

And yet, the Governor’s column relies on monthly statistics that he admitted are unreliable. If you look at the “gold standard” numbers that the Governor said he’d use 100 percent of the time, you would not – and could not – call it a “comeback.”

The most recently available quarterly jobs statistics show Wisconsin has dropped to 40th in the nation in private sector job growth over the past four years. Wisconsin is dead last in the region. Our state remains 10th of 10 Midwest states in private sector job growth (9).

Our state has been largely left behind in the national economic growth. Wisconsin’s job growth rate over the most recent one-year span was just 1.2 percent, compared to 2.2 percent nationally (10).

Let me repeat: legislative Democrats want to grow wages and our economy. Unfortunately, our efforts to get Wisconsin out of the gutter economically have been stymied by Republicans in power. Assembly Democrats put forward an agenda focused on growing our economy and middle class. Our 15 for 2015 Economic Opportunity agenda aimed to create good-paying jobs, connect workers with available jobs, increase wages and make us more competitive in a global economy. None of these ideas was pursued by the legislative majority and not one was brought to a vote.

Instead of focusing on growing the economy, Republicans focused on growing their own power – doubling campaign contributions and eliminating the nonpartisan ethics boards, among many other changes. Instead of growing wages as we proposed, Republicans drove down wages by passing right-wing policies like so-called “Right to Work” and gutting prevailing wage protections.

Gov. Walker and Republicans also continued their legacy of slashing funds for our public schools and colleges. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau confirms that since 2011, over $2 billion has been cut from public schools, universities and technical colleges based on decisions by Governor Walker and Legislative Republicans (11).

When it comes to the Governor’s stated goal of “more jobs and higher wages,” Wisconsin workers deserve more than lip service and magic tricks. They deserve real action.

Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, is minority leader of the Wisconsin State Assembly.


(1) Gov. Scott Walker: The Wisconsin Comeback continues, May 2016
(2) Marquette Law School Polls, March 2016 and November 2015
(3) DWD Plant Closing Mass Layoffs (PCML)
(4) UW-Madison Applied Population Lab
(5) Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity
(6) Pew Charitable Trusts, March 2015
(7) Gov. Walker press release, May 2012, “What is the Best Way to Count Jobs?
(8) PolitiFact Wisconsin, October 2015
(9) US BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages Sept 2011-2015.
(10) Wisconsin Job Growth Lags National Average, Federal Survey Shows, March 2016
(11) Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo, January 2016

Categories: Business, Op-Ed, Politics

34 thoughts on “Op-Ed: The Comeback That Never Came”

  1. Milwaukee Native says:

    After reading many research-based stories about Wisconsin’s economy in Urban Milwaukee and elsewhere, Scott Walker’s recent rosy op-ed indeed seemed to distort reality with cherry-picked facts. Thanks Rep. Barca for providing a more comprehensive pciture.

    It’s apparent that legislators, especially those with a lock on the legislature, need to quit spinning the bad news and seriously assess recent policy impacts on the state’s economy. Although gerrymandering will help the GOP hold its lock for a while, eventually even that unfair advantage may diminish as more citizens reject policies that are killing jobs, decimating much of our education system and hollowing out the middle class.

  2. WashCoRepub says:

    It’s tough indeed when you’re fighting the Obama extremely-slow-growth national economy, but the Legislature and Governor Walker are doing everything they can.

  3. happyjack27 says:

    Wow, really WashCoRepub? Are there still people who don’t know the reality about private sector job growth?

    What rock have you been hiding under? Stuck deep within the republican propaganda bubble.

    Stick around, you might actual learn some things that are _true_. That, or you’ll have to build a thicker bubble.

  4. Fightingbobfan says:

    First off WashCoRepub, if you don’t like what’s happening nationally, tell your GOP buddies to get the hell out of the way.

    Second, we are talking about comparisons between states. That is under Walker’s control. You can put your bigotry for Obama aside.

  5. Wifather2000 says:

    WOW!! Do they ever have some very slow learners, and thinkers, in Walkershaw County! If Walker’s Wisconsin had kept up with the national average for new jobs Wisconsin would have over 310,000 new jobs, not less than 200,000 under the slimy hands of governor Alfred E. Neuman!

  6. Wynne Linden says:

    See how I use my real name? I for one have no problems believing this. I worked for 35 years, first in the military, then in the IT profession, in 2009, I lost my job thanks to the economic crashing. When I couldn’t get so much as a call for a job interview, (and, oh, yes, I applied far away, to jobs that paid 1/4th of what I was making, along with plenty of jobs for whic I was qualified), I received a letter signed by Scott Walker, saying that job employment had risen last month. Since I still hadn’t found a job, I clearly needed incentive. So, he informed me, he was cutting off my unemployment benefits, effective, immediately. I bet the next month a large number of people fell off the unemployment lists and he took credit for the “jobs” he created. Meanwhile, I was reduced to begging from a church, the local VFW gave me gift cards to Walmart, and of course, the food pantry, where I could receive stale sugary cereal and canned cast off vegetables no one with real jobs wanted. But by golly, that Gov Walker he was a hero, eh? Of course, after being unemployed for 3 years, I lost my house to foreclosure to…ta da…Bank of America. I did not have a mortgage for a house I could not afford. I tried desperately to work with those bailed out as$holes, and what they did was play the “we lost your documents” or “they expired send more” game with me. I brought this to the states attorney who did nothing to them, but finally got them to offer me a deal. Ha ha…after stretching it 3 years the interest, fines, etc, now made the payments more than they were before, even though they graciously offered me a reduction in interest rates. I declined. Meanwhile the bailout money for homeowners and not banks sent to Wisconsin was taken by Scott Walker and he claimed he could help our economy more by using it to balance budget. I’m sure he took crefit for that…I still lost my home…none of his balancing helped me save my house. I wound up taking the first job offer that came, a humiliating entry level position gladly and have gone on with my life. No I didn’t die. But I lost a few years of my life in bitter poverty. I don’t blame Scott Walker, but he is not our leader if he can’t get the backs of those he leads. His interest is purely for his own record. And that became obvious when he made a bid for the Whitehouse.

  7. Vincent Hanna says:

    He is a troll and will not respond to anything here. He stops by occasionally, posts something that praises Walker and/or Republicans, and never responds to anyone else’s comments.

  8. Chuckie says:

    It’s tough indeed when you’re fighting the Obama economic recovery, but the Legislature and Governor Walker are doing everything they can…. to aid and abet their donors.

  9. Wynne Linden says:

    Scott Walker does indeed fiddle with numbers to get his rosy stats. In 2009 I lost my job as a manager of an IT dept. I’ve worked steadily since I was 16, including 14 years in the military. I’ve contributed and I know hard work and how to get a job. Yet, I couldnt get a job for 3 years. While I was still entitled to collect unemployment, yet looking for a job, I got a letter signed by Scott Walker, stating that he had noticed quite a few others got jobs ladt month but I had not. So as an incentive, he was cutting off my benefits, effective immediately. In otherwords, I fell off the unemployment rolls, even though I remained unemployed. As a single parent with no other income including child support (my ex is a staunch Scott Walker supporter) I was reduced to begging from a church and using gift cards donated from the local VFW, along with the stale, expired cereal and pasta, and canned beets and greenbeens from the food pantry. Before I ran out of money, I had tried to work with Bank of America, that bank of the bailouts, to obtain a reasonable modification to help me hang onto my home. Bank of America played the classic move the target games, and after involving the states attorney who did nothing to Bank of America, except get them to finally agree to a modification, the modication was higher payments because of fines and interest building, even though they lowered the interest rate. I declined and told Bank of America to stuff it. Meanwhile, the federal government offered states bailout money for people like me. But in Wisconsin, we foreclosed home owners saw not a penny. Instead, Scott Walker said hey, looky, I can balance the budget with this Federal money. Later, he made a bid for the presidency, where I’m sure he pointed out his unemployment and budget records. Yeah, Scott Walker didn’t need anyone’s help….he was capable of doing it sll on his own.

  10. AG says:

    Wisconsin private sector job growth has been towards the top since the recall nonsense was settled. But obviously the democrats should take no blame in suppressing the economy before that time with their antics…

  11. happyjack27 says:

    “Wisconsin private sector job growth has been towards the top since the recall nonsense was settled.”

    hmmm…. false.

  12. Vincent Hanna says:

    How long can you really blame the recall AG? That was many years ago now. Wisconsin has been “Open For Business” since Walker first took office. Plus the GOP has controlled the legislature. With Democrats having little to no power in the state, is it really fair to blame them for Wisconsin’s economy? Can the Status Quo Defender just not admit that maybe Walker and Republicans are far more responsible?

  13. happyjack27 says:

    To be clear, republicans gerrymandered the @#&@ out of wisconsin assembly districts in the 2010 redistricting cycle, rendering democrats effectively powerless, despite having majority support from voters.

    Anything after that point, it’s all on the GOP. Can’t blame it on the team that you already eliminated from the game. That’s crazy-talk.

  14. Dave says:

    “Wisconsin private sector job growth has been towards the top since the recall nonsense was settled.”

    Complete and utter bullshit. Wisconsin is a shell of it’s former self thanks to the GOP and it’s pathetic apologists like you. You fools can’t even live up to “fiscally responsible” mantra you like to parrot. Surprise, surprise….tax cuts didn’t generate the revenue you genius’ thought it would and you’ve pushed off yet another debt payment.

  15. AG says:

    Happy Jack, not only is that link not the same time period I’m talking about, it also uses the less reliable monthly data that has since been revised. I pulled the BLS data myself for the time period from the end of the recall (July 2010) to the most recent quarterly data and found:

    Wisconsin 7.04% Michigan 8.29% Minnesota 6.27% Iowa 5.05% Illinois 5.01% Indiana 6.73% Ohio 6.32%

    Vincent, I’m not blaming the recall for anything other than the poor performance time period that happened during that time. That will never change. Anything that happens after it ended can not be pinned to it.

  16. Dave says:

    “Turning in another subpar employment report, Wisconsin gained 29,616 private-sector jobs in the 12 months through September 2015, a 1.2% increase that lags behind the national pace of 2.2% in the same period, according to reliable data released Wednesday.”

  17. Vincent Hanna says:

    Is there even definitive proof that the recall seriously hurt the state’s economy? Or is that just a GOP talking point shifting blame for what’s been a sub-par economy under Walker and the GOP since he took office? Even if there’s proof it did hurt, again, that’s a long time ago.

  18. AG says:

    No, I take a similar view of it as Bruce Thompson does in his datawonk articles. I’m not saying it’s the be all end all to the performance during that time. But one has to recognize that the political turmoil of the time certainly did not inspire businesses to want to grow in Wisconsin. It’s ok to recognize that while still acknowledging the overall struggles of Wisconsin’s economy and job growth struggles going back to the 2001 recession even.

    My point wasn’t to scapegoat Walker, but just put into perspective that you can’t just let your political bias lay all the blame in one place.

  19. AG says:

    Dave, you’re also comparing different things. I can do that too, watch:

    That was fun… but still isn’t what I was talking about.

  20. happyjack27 says:

    “My point wasn’t to scapegoat Walker, but just put into perspective that you can’t just let your political bias lay all the blame in one place.”

    No, the fact that the GOP are in full control (through cheating, actually) and are entirely intransigent, whereas democrats are entirely powerless for these reasons, is what makes me lay all the blame on the GOP. Also their ridiculously bad policies and the fact that they’ve blocked every effort to improve things, again because they have all the power and are intransigent. That’s why all the blame goes in one place: because that’s where it belongs.

    “the political turmoil of the time certainly did not inspire businesses to want to grow in Wisconsin” not clear on what you’re suggesting here. incredibly vague. sounds like you’re saying that a) business growth is some kind of deliberate choice businesses make, like “meh, i don’t feel like growing today. just not feeling the inspiration.”, b) “political turmoil” which i can only imagine means republican intransigence, is what’s causing these anthropomorphic companies blase attitude.

  21. Dave says:

    So you aren’t talking about private sector job growth in years since June 2012 (actual date of recall election) even though that’s literally what you said?

  22. AG says:

    Dave, you link was a story about the 12 month period ending Sept 2015… how is that the same as the time period as June 2012 to the most recent job numbers?

    happyjack27, I’m not sure what to say to your last post… you just seem angry and unable to be objective. I did enjoy reading: “anthropomorphic companies.” That was a good one.

  23. Dave says:

    Do you really need me to google the other 2 years for you before you admit what an asinine comment that was?

  24. happyjack27 says:

    AG: oh, i was being objective.

    glad you liked my hints of humor in the second paragrph. you’re welcome to try to clarify what you meant.

  25. AG says:

    Dave, I ran the numbers from BLS data myself last month. The numbers above are comparing those 7 states from June 2012 to August 2015 (the latest numbers at the time)

  26. AG says:

    happyjack27, companies (especially large corporations) do make decisions, or hold off on decisions, based on political uncertainty. I’d call the political unrest during the recall a textbook case of political uncertainty.

  27. happyjack27 says:

    i don’t think it’s plausible to claim that a recall election had a significant impact on business growth, not to mention being a primary driver. the claim is laughable on its face.

    economic growth is driven primarily by demand for goods and services. something that a higher minimum wage would increase. and something that a recall election does not decrease.

  28. happyjack27 says:

    linking to a book on managerial economics doesn’t make the “let’s not have a recall cause that’ll hurt the economy” and attendant scapegoating any less laughable.

  29. AG says:

    If you don’t understand what’s in the book I can’t very well explain everything to you without a post longer than the original op-ed…

  30. happyjack27 says:

    You don’t need to worry about that, AG. I understand perfectly.

  31. happyjack27 says:

    and don’t worry AG, i’m sure everyone values you’re word that you “ran the numbers”, over being able to see the data for themselves in a plethora of reputable online sources with strict quality control. i think on balance, your word trumps the overwhelming preponderance of the widely available evidence.

  32. Dave says:

    Had a few minutes over lunch to dig into BLS numbers, AG.

    I used seasonally adjusted employment from June 2012 to December 2015 for all states you listed. Wisconsin’s employment number increased by 3.9% over that time period. For the others: MI – 6.8%, MN – 4.3%, IA – 5.3%, Il – 2.5%, IN – 8.0% and OH – 2.6%.

    Hardly “towards the top”.

  33. Joe Citizen says:

    AG – please get over your recall uncertainty and please explain how Walker can blame the Obama economy for his scoop and toss of $100 million in debt. We all know why he’s scooping and tossing. Walker doesn’t want to deal with a huge deficit. Is this what a fiscal conservative looks like.

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